When Spring Comes to Washington

Tourists, from the U.S. and around the world, flock to Washington at spring time.  They come to hear echoes of this nation’s past, learn about its founding principles, and think about their relevance today.

Visitors to the monuments along the Tidal Basin often stop at the Jefferson Memorial.  Modeled after the Roman Parthenon, it speaks loudly to those who can appreciate his vital and open mind.  One panel reads:

“I am certainly not an advocate for frequent and untried changes in laws and institutions,” quoting a letter he wrote after his presidency, “But I know also, that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind.  As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times.”  Otherwise, he concluded, “We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him as a boy…”

Is there a better metaphor for U.S.-Cuba policy, buttoned so uncomfortably into the straitjacket fitted for it by Senator Jesse Helms and Congressman Dan Burton?  You might have read about their Helms-Burton law using Netscape Navigator to “surf” the web when it passed in 1996.

Seventeen years later, the conditions that existed on the ground then – in Havana and Miami, where its passage was demanded – have changed as much as the technology we use to learn about them.

No, Cuba is not marching toward a multiparty democracy.  But, it’s economic system is being revamped, government payrolls are being down-sized, cooperatives and private businesses are on the rise.  State-owned media carry complaints about the slow pace of reform.  Houses and cars are being sold on the open market.  Cubans with cellphones pass in and out of hotels.  Most Cubans, including Cuban dissidents, are free to travel, even tweet their opposition to government policy, and return.  These changes are real, and a Vice President whose last name is Díaz-Canel, not Castro, is in place to carry them forward.

Yes, Florida too, once ground zero for policies like Helms-Burton, has a different look and feel.  President Obama’s travel reforms are speeding the reconciliation of the Cuban family and helping Cuban-Americans support relatives taking advantage of Raúl Castro’s economic reforms.  Miami Cubans, including Carlos Saladrigas, who once led thousands to stop believers from visiting Cuba to witness Pope John Paul II celebrate mass in the Plaza of the Revolution, embraced the chance to see Pope Benedict XVI worship with the island’s faithful.

The last election saw President Obama split the Cuban American vote with his opponent; Miami elected a pro-family travel Democrat to a Congressional seat; and Rep. Kathy Castor (FL-14) is in Cuba right now pursuing the business interests of her district and the foreign policy interests of the United States.  Today, it is the hardliners who are increasingly marginalized, while Mr. Saladrigas and his Cuba Study Group join the ranks of those who have long called for Helms-Burton’s repeal.

These are big changes.  What might Jefferson have thought about them?  History teaches us that our Third President wanted to purchase or annex Cuba for reasons he expressed in his time, which might seem eerily familiar to us in our time.

And yet, spring has come to Jefferson’s capital.  It is easy to imagine that he would find the changes happening in Havana and Miami to be self-evident; that as evidence of what he called “discoveries,” and we might call, “new thinking,” were made, he’d want the policy to be more enlightened; that he’d have us slip from the confining coat of Helms-Burton, and beckon his successor in the White House (with apologies to Chance the Gardener) to turn over a new leaf as well.


Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa in Cuba on a fact-finding mission

Rep. Kathy Castor (FL-14) arrived in Cuba on Wednesday evening on a four-day, fact-finding trip led by the Center for Democracy in the Americas, to pursue opportunities that will position her district, which includes the port city of Tampa, as a gateway to Cuba, reports the Tampa Bay Tribune.

Expressing her hopes for a productive trip, Rep. Castor stated, “If we can take the next step nearer to better relations, we can help people and create business jobs in the Tampa area…There is not a day that goes by that I don’t hear from someone seeking help with regard to an issue involving Cuba.” Rep. Castor has also expressed her opposition to the embargo, as she recently told the Tampa Bay Business Journal: “It is time for the U.S. to modernize its relationship with Cuba, lift the embargo and end restrictions on American’s rights to travel to Cuba.”

Social Security benefits cannot be collected from Cuba

The Social Security Administration (SSA) has stated that U.S. citizens and residents cannot collect benefits while in Cuba or North Korea, reports the Miami Herald. According to Maria Díaz, a SSA spokesperson for South Florida, Social Security payments cannot be sent to either country. Therefore, U.S. citizens, including Cuban-Americans, who visit these countries for more than 30 days, will not be able to collect payments due them until reaching another country. Those holding only resident status in the U.S. forfeit their benefits completely for periods corresponding with visits to these two nations. She also clarified that it has long been unlawful for an intermediary to collect and forward benefits to someone living abroad.

Questions regarding such benefits arose after recent changes in Cuba’s immigration law making it easier for Cubans who leave the island to retain their residency, or to repatriate after spending significant time abroad.

Non-university academic service providers may lead Cuba study abroad programs

Third-party academic service providers are permitted to lead study abroad programs in Cuba, as determined on a case-by-case basis by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), reports Inside Higher Ed. According to the State Department, “The goal is to provide study-abroad options for students whose university or college does not have a stand-alone Cuba program but which is nevertheless prepared to grant course credit for formal study in Cuba.”

The State Department will publish guidelines for such cases in the Federal Register and on the OFAC website.

Direct flights now available between Miami and Manzanillo

Next week, Wilson International will begin chartering weekly flights between Miami and Cuba’s eastern city of Manzanillo, reports Café Fuerte. The company also announced it will add a weekly flight between Miami and Camagüey starting April 16. With the addition of this route, chartered flights will operate between the U.S. and five cities in Cuba: Havana, Santiago de Cuba, Camagüey, Holguín, and Manzanillo. Cuba Travel Services, a charter company, also announced they will begin offering a weekly flight to Santa Clara within the next few weeks.

U.S.-produced, Dominican-made “Cohibas” get legal OK

The United States Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) has overruled a lower court’s decision and will permit General Cigars, a U.S. firm, to market cigars under the Cohiba name, reports ABC. In 1981 and 1992, General Cigars registered their Dominican-made cigars under the Cohiba trademark without the consent of Cubatabaco, which has used the Cohiba trademark for its famous Cuban-made cigars since 1969. The TTAB justified overturning Cubatabaco’s previous legal victory saying that, due to the embargo, Cubatabaco has no legal standing in the U.S. CubaDebate published an article calling the decision “blatant robbery” and “disregard [for] international regulations on trademarks, patents and intellectual property.”

Beyoncé and Jay-Z in Cuba

U.S. superstars Beyoncé and Jay-Z are in Cuba for their fifth wedding anniversary, reports Havana Times. Beyoncé, a pop singer, and Jay-Z, a rapper, were surrounded by fans yesterday as they toured Old Havana, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The couple took photos with schoolchildren, and visited several well-known restaurants in the area. Some photos of their visit are available from the AP.


State firms to implement performance-based pay; new non-agricultural cooperatives to become operational

Cuba’s Council of Ministers announced that state-owned enterprises may now devote up to half of their after-tax profits to employee incentives and to research and development efforts, reports EFE. The statement came during a meeting this week to discuss how economic reforms would proceed in 2014. According to Granma, these after-tax funds are meant to be used for investment, employee training, research and development, and to pay workers based on their performance.

Marino Murillo, one of Cuba’s Vice Presidents, and a steward of the country’s economic reforms, announced at the meeting that 126 new non-agricultural cooperatives will soon be operational, reports Havana Times. Murillo explained that “These new forms of management will be initiated in 111 farmers markets, five are associated with passenger transport services, six auxiliary transport services, two for waste recycling and 12 related to construction activities.” It is not yet clear whether the new cooperatives will be organized by the government or by their members.

President Raúl Castro also commented that Cuba’s economic reforms are proceeding at an appropriate pace, and cannot be rushed, reports Café Fuerte. Responding to critics who say that Cuba’s reforms should be advancing more quickly, President Castro stated, “if we analyze the path that we have taken we can see that [the reforms] are advancing at a good pace, since the magnitude and complexity of the problems does not permit us to resolve them overnight. We have to resist pressure from those who insist that we should go more quickly.”

Cuba cancels land agreement with farmers for contractual breach

Cuba’s government cancelled its contract with 67 farmers who had entered into an agreement to work idle government land, citing “repeated violations” of the farmers’ obligations to cultivate tobacco, reports AFP. The farmers, in the Ciego de Ávila province, had requested land under the Decree-Law 259 for the cultivation of idle lands, but did not grow tobacco in this harvest, according to Granma. This contributed to a setback in the county’s planting plan, with 40 of 428 hectares not being planted, a loss of about 37 tons of tobacco.

In 2008, Cuba passed laws allowing farmers to request use of government lands in usufruct. Land is granted to farmers on a contractual basis, for an initial period of ten years. Recently, the government has increased the amount of land that can be given to farmers under such an agreement.

Father of René González, a member of the Cuban 5, dies

Cándido René González, father of René González, passed away on Monday after suffering a stroke, reports CubaDebate. Cándido González moved to the United States in the 1950s and joined a branch of the revolutionary 26 of July Movement in Chicago, leading him to return to Cuba in 1961. He joined an anti-aerial brigade during the Cuban Missile Crisis, took part in sugarcane harvests, and acted as a union leader.

René González, one of the Cuban Five, cannot attend his father’s funeral in Havana because of his continued probation in the United States. In March of last year, González was granted permission by the U.S. District Court of South Florida to travel to the island for 15 days, after which he returned to the U.S. to continue serving his probation.


Mariel Port Special Development Zone rules published

Regulations for Cuba’s first free trade manufacturing zone were unveiled Tuesday, reports AFP. The Mariel Special Development Zone will feature manufacturing for both export and domestic markets, and take over shipping operations currently done in Havana. Brazilian multinational Odebrecht will handle the project’s infrastructure, while Brazil’s government will provide $640 million of the total $900 million needed for the project.

Vice President Marino Murillo traveled to Brazil this week and met with Brazil’s Vice President Michel Temer to discuss trade, investment, cooperation and development aid issues, Havana Times reports.

Cuba abstains in UN vote on arms sales treaty

The UN General Assembly has voted on a treaty intended to regulate the global sales of weapons, reports The New York Times. The framework for the treaty was based on the International Code of Conduct on the Transfer of Arms, written by seven Nobel Peace Prize laureates under the leadership of Costa Rica’s former President Oscar Arias, reports the Pan-American Post. The vote passed with 154 votes in favor, three against, and 23 abstentions. ALBA countries Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua abstained alongside China, Russia, Egypt, Indonesia, and India. Rodolfo Reyes, Cuba’s Ambassador to the UN, said the treaty:

“(G)ives arms exporting countries the power to evaluate the behavior of importers on the basis of subjective and imprecise criteria that are subject to abuse and manipulation for political reasons.”

It is expected that the treaty will not be implemented for years to come, and the abstentions, especially from countries that are key arms exporters, raise questions about what weight the document will carry in the future, according to The New York Times.

Around the Region

El Salvador Update: March 2013, Linda Garrett, Center for Democracy in the Americas

Linda Garrett, CDA’s senior policy analyst on El Salvador, discusses developments in the country during the month of March, including the legacy of impunity for civil war crimes and the ongoing gang truce and peace process.

If you would like to receive CDA’s Monthly El Salvador Update via email, contact: ElSalvadorUpdate@democracyinamericas.org.

Trial of Ríos Montt: Witnesses testify to rape in Ríos Montt genocide trial; defense also objects to documents, Shawn Roberts, Open Society Justice Initiative

Shawn Roberts of the Open Society Justice Initiative reports on the progress of the trial of General Efraín Ríos Montt, ex-dictator of Guatemala and the first former head of state to stand trial for genocide in his home country. Proceedings resumed Monday after an Easter recess, as witnesses for the prosecution testified to torture, massacres, and rape committed by state counterinsurgency forces. In Thursday’s court proceedings, a witness for the prosecution implicated Otto Pérez Molina, current President of Guatemala, as a Captain of state counterinsurgency forces that carried out massacres at Ríos Montt’s orders.

Recommended Reading

Special Feature: Along the Malecón: Agency takes new strategy toward Cuba

Investigative journalist Tracey Eaton reveals the budget of the Broadcasting Board of Governors’ Cuba program, how the money is used, and questions the BBG’s role in future U.S. policy toward Cuba.

Cuba Report: Is the New Miami Dynamic a Game Changer?, Elizabeth Newhouse, Center for International Policy

Newhouse highlights the changing attitudes in Miami toward Cuba, noting that the shift is reflected in recent lobbying efforts by Cuban Americans: “The message they unequivocally delivered was that a sizable majority (60%) of Cuban Americans in south Florida now favors engagement with Cuba, and that the area’s hardline congressional representatives do not reflect the views of most of their constituents on the issue.”

Cuba: The Beginning of the Post-Castro Era, Arturo López-Levy, Huffington Post

Arturo López-Levy examines the transition of Cuba’s economic and political environment under Raúl Castro’s leadership. He notes that the “loss of Fidel’s charismatic leadership” in a sense pressured the Cuban Communist Party to “govern under new conditions” and focus on economic reforms. Eventually, these reforms, he argues, will push for political liberalization, starting at the individual level.

Comenzó la pelea entre peso cubano y peso convertible ¿A cuántos rounds será?, Carlos Batista, AFP

Cuba’s two currencies – the peso cubano (CUP) and the peso convertible (CUC) – are headed toward a showdown of sorts. A new tax law specifies that taxes are to be paid in CUP, even by workers in the private sector and those employed by foreign companies who are paid in CUC. The fact that the majority of salaries on the island are paid in CUP, coupled with this new law, puts the CUP in a favored position for eventually becoming Cuba’s only currency.  When the 6th Congress of the Cuban Communist Party met in 2011, it confirmed a gradual transition but was cautious to note that it will depend on an increase in national productivity.

Cuba and the United States: Time to Lean Forward, Edward T. Walsh, News & Observer

Edward T. Walsh, a frequent traveler and organizer of study abroad programs in Cuba, argues in this op-ed column for removing Cuba from the U.S. State Department’s list of State Sponsors of Terrorism.

Bolivia, Ecuador and Chile are new immigration destinations for CubansGlobal Post

In the last 20 years, there has been a new trend in Cuban emigration in the Americas. While historical settlements in Mexico, Argentina, the Dominican Republic, and Venezuela remain popular, more and more Cubans are emigrating to Bolivia, Ecuador, and Chile.

Recommended Viewing

Talking about Cuba with Ellery Biddle and Elaine Díaz, Global Voices

Ellery Biddle, editor of Global Voices Advocacy, and Elaine Díaz, a journalist, professor and blogger in Cuba, discuss their thoughts on Cuba’s Intranet and access to the Internet on the island.

Ms. Díaz wrote this week in her blog, La Polémica, that she was denied a visa to participate in the Latin American Studies Association’s upcoming conference in Washington, D.C.  She details the process she endured, which ended with her being denied a visa on the grounds that she was a “possible emigrant.”

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